Asking for a letter of recommendation
Our recommendation? Read these tips and getting your next letter of recommendation will be a breeze.
Whether you’re looking for a new job, applying for admission to graduate school or vying for a scholarship, chances are you’re going up against competition—and plenty of it. You need to find a way to stand out. One way to do so is with a strong letter of recommendation.
Of course, the only way to get a letter is to ask for it—the prospect of which likely fills you with dread. What will she say? Will you annoy him with your request? Is there anything you can you offer in return? Worse, what if the boss you thought loved you secretly hated you?
It’s OK to feel nervous, but believe it or not, most people will be happy to write something on your behalf.
“With people who have worked with me in the past, if they ask me for a letter, I am more than willing to write them one,” says Peggy McKee, CEO of Dallas-based Career Confidential. “But If I was happy with them, I would like to do anything I could to help them going forward.”
See, it’s not that difficult! But if you’re still hesitant, use this approach to get the letter of recommendation that you need.
Just pop the question
Yes, it may sound simplistic, but the truth is the way to ask for a letter of recommendation is to ask.
“A lot of students feel anxiety asking for a letter of recommendation; what they should realize is that we get asked all of the time!” says Jessi Franko, an adjunct communications professor at Rider University and Mercer Community College in New Jersey. “They are definitely not the first person to ask and definitely not the last. I get asked to write recommendation letters for current students, former students and even colleagues at least twice a month.”
Rather than apologizing or beating around the bush, ask the question straightforwardly, noting the purpose for which you need the letter and the deadline.
You say: “I’m applying for an internship, and I need to include two letters of recommendation. Would you be willing to write one for me? I’d need it by the 20th.”
Suggest some talking points
Don’t just ask, “Can you write me a letter of recommendation?” Be sure to mention what information you’d like the letter to include.
“If somebody is trying to apply for a certain type of job, I would recommend that they try to ask that the reference letter includes specific examples of work that they had done in that field, or specific examples skills and abilities that they have that would be relevant to that field,” says Jill Saverine, senior vice president of human resources for Stamford, Connecticut-based Aircastle.
You say: “Thank you for agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for me. I was hoping you could mention the role I played in our big campaign and how my blog post helped increase our company’s site traffic.”
Be prepared to write the letter yourself
Let’s be honest, we’re all busy these days. Someone may be willing to write you a letter of recommendation, but feel crunched for time. If that happens, they might ask that you write the letter for them. This is OK. They’ve still offered to help you and you have your signed letter of recommendation. It’s a win-win!
Need help writing it? Use our sample recommendation letter template.
“Put together a few statements about what you’ve done, what you can do and some of the best things that you did while you worked there, maybe mention a particular story about something,” McKee says. “Send it to them, let them choose what they want to pick and keep and put their little signature at the bottom and you’re done!”
You say: “I know this is a busy time of year for you. If you don’t have time to write it, perhaps I could write something for you to review and if it looks all right, you could sign it?”